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Good morning curious.earthlings,

This week science takes centre stage, plus Greta Thunberg is making her way back from USA to Madrid for COP25 by yacht, after it was switched from Santiago (Chile) after huge country-wide protests.

After last week's article on carbon offsetting, budget airline EasyJet have announced all their flights will be carbon neutral...err, lol

Reading time is 3:37 minutes.

p.s. If you are in London tomorrow evening (November 22nd) and at a loose end, check out No Plastic More Fun lots of awesome environmental speakers followed by an eco-disco.

Under the magnifying glass: A new type of solar energy

by Imogen Berryman

What's Going On Here?

Technology has been developed to produce carbon-free energy from the sun, powerful enough to rival fossil fuels. This is the first time renewable energy has been able to be used for powering heavy industries, such as the manufacturing of concrete, steel and petrochemicals.

What Does This Mean?

The technology is called ‘concentrated solar power’. It works by using A LOT of mirrors angled to reflect the sun's energy on to one target spot like a gas pipe and therefore heating it up.

“It’s a little bit like an enormous magnifying glass” Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Heliogen. 

Some power plants have been using this method for a while now but they haven’t been able to produce high enough temperatures to present a potential alternative to fossil fuels used in heavy industrial processes, aviation and transport. 

The secret to Heliogen’s breakthrough is the use of high resolution cameras that look at the field of mirrors in real-time and control their angles to make sure they are angled with high precision. It’s this that has enabled temperatures of over 1,000 degrees celcius to be reached, finally making solar power a worthy opponent to fossil fuels.

Why Should We Care?

Previously only fossil fuels were able to produce energy powerful enough for ‘heavy industry’ processes responsible for ⅕ of global carbon emissions

Petrochemicals are used to make millions of household products from plastics and rubber to fibres and films and it’s estimated that we’re going to need more concrete in the next 25 years - another billion tonnes to be precise. This is predicted to produce 470 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050 - not exactly the right direction we were hoping for…

Fossil fuels are still dominating world energy usage with renewables only accounting for 25% of the world’s power output last year

The startup behind the technology, Heliogen (backed by Bill Gates) has a mission for it to replace fossil fuels at large scales. Replacing fossil fuels in heavy industry will see a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases.

We did say that 2019 was the year for renewable energy… just sayin’!

Be Curious!

  • Learn more about Heliogen’s work
  • Have a look at how you source your energy- a survey by consumer magazine Which? reported their top 3 green energy suppliers to be: Ecotricity, Green Star & Good Energy…
  • Keep an eye on the UK's usage of renewables.
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Are we going round the

by Char Cross

What's Going On Here?

Scientists have developed a unique spray-on coating for toilet bowls to help poo on its way and not stick around. Research conducted has shown that even the more stubborn poo is 90% less adhesive with the sticky coating.

What Does This Mean?

With less poo sticking to the bowls of our toilets (I can’t believe I’m writing this sentence either), less water will be wasted trying to flush away the leftovers from your pan. 

Tak-Sing Wong and his team of researchers at Penn State University, started to work on this solution when another load of researchers from Cranfield University contacted them. They were working on designing a toilet for the developing world and found that there was a significant odour which came from the build-up of waste on the bowl.

Cue Wong and co, who set about developing the new sticky coating which combines a layer of molecularly grafted polymers and a thin layer of silicone oil, that would help to repel ‘sticky substances’ which I’ve read Wong and his team are known for...

After a series of tests which involved dropping poo-mimicking substances from a height of 40cm on to test plates angled at 45 degrees (I assume this is the height and angle most of us poo from…) and using fluorescent dye to track the amount of water it took to dislodge the  poo - they found that the coating resulted in 90% less water use.

Why Should We Care?

Toilet flushing accounts for 1/3 of water used in our homes today and depending on the type of flush your toilet uses, it could be anywhere up to 14 litres PER flush. Not to mention, this is fresh (and drinkable!) water being used.

So with millions of people across the world facing water shortages and lack of or no access to clean drinking water, maybe this non-stick toilet could help? Well, at least that is what Wong and his team believe.

Sticky poos and reduced water usage aside, I’d personally like to know about the chemicals we could be potentially flushing into our water systems...perhaps this is research already in Wong’s pipeline...? 

Be Curious!

Whilst we don’t know if this coating will be making its way to a toilet near you anytime soon, here are some things you can do in the meantime to help reduce your flush’s impact:
  1. If it’s yellow let it mellow
  2. Find out what type of flush your toilet uses. Apparently switching to a ‘dual flush model’ could reduce your flush to only 4 litres...
  3. If the first two aren’t an option for you, look for another area of your home life to reduce water use. Can you shave another few minutes off your shower time?
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Other news we found curious...

Australia fires: 'Catastrophic' alerts in South Australia and Victoria - BBC
EasyJet to offset carbon emissions from all its flights - Guardian
Venice council flooded moments after rejecting climate crisis plan - Independent
Every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change - EcoWatch
Greggs' chief converted to veganism convinced of health benefits - Guardian
Amazon deforestation 'at highest level in a decade' - Vox
Fossil fuel production on track for double the safe climate limit - Guardian
Imogen Berryman
Char Cross

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